Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Sunday, September 14, 2008

History Lesson

I am two years old when the bomb is dropped
on Hiroshima, three days later on Nagasaki.
105,000 Japanese civilians die.
Buildings pop and flame
like white flowers splintered in a hot wind.
People flee to a nearby canal.
Coats catch fire as they run.
They cannot see
for the rain of ash.
Someone’s watch is stepped on,
forever frozen in my memory.

After the war, faces without lips
Turn to the camera
so we can see
what has been wrought.

In my dreams I watch again the jagged film:
two men smile for the camera,
sitting in the cockpit of a silver plane,
and the bomb falls down through clouds
to become a ball of fire.

It is August 1949.
The Russians test their first atomic bomb.
I am in first grade. We bow our heads and
put our hands behind our necks to protect them.
I do not believe that rolling into a gutter
will save me from the billowing mushroom cloud.

I am seventeen. Two marines visit
my high school English class.
They point to a map taped on the blackboard.
They say you do not know what is coming,
Vietnam, 1961.

Today, September 11, 2008,I remember two planes
crashing into twin towers, and a third plane
head first in a Pennsylvania field.

So many deaths. So many memorials.
So many wars I do not understand.

This poem came from this last week of thinking about September 11, world terrorism. I was off line this last week making a move to Vancouver in Washington, and now am living in this lovely apartment overlooking a small garden, just off Highway 205 and the bridge over the Columbia River with Mt. Hood floating in a brilliant blue sky.


  1. This post brings up my deepest feelings, which correspond to yours. On my Facebook profile (at 87 am I the oldest person on Facebook?) I list my religion as Pacifism.

  2. Poignant. I spent nine years in the forces and one thing I understood was soldiers may fight wars, but politicians cause them.
    This strange breed come from a tiny percentage of a population - any population - and are beyond understanding because the vast majority of people are peaceful.

  3. I've never understood wars's enough to make me lose faith in man.

  4. This poem is very powerful and engaging. I saw a link for your work at S.L. Corsua's site, "Unguarded Utterance." I am so glad to meet you and read your work. Great job.

  5. Anonymous11:42 AM

    very nice piece of history -- the piecing of time together- the piecing of war to wars to this very moment in time - do we await another verse - only time and history will tell --

    thank you - and unguarded-utterance for posting your piece


  6. Anonymous7:25 AM

    Thanks to Corsua, you found me, and I found you. The most wonderful thing about blogging is finding others out there who are writing their fingers to the bone. Hope you continue visiting my site. I shall tell others about yours. Peace. T

  7. I felt certain bitterness in the verse. I do not understand wars either…
    I shall say that I think it is great that I could read this (poem).

  8. Anonymous7:06 AM

    History lessons portrayed through personal experience are probably the most important lessons of all. This is a very powerful poem. Was particularly captured by the broken watch and your statement "I do not believe that rolling into a gutter
    will save me from the billowing mushroom cloud." I'm glad to have grown up without that type of fear.

  9. It makes me wonder... so much devastation we get to witness in a lifetime... and in the name of progress. Maybe writing is one of the few places where we get to digest this. I like the soberness of the poem, so fitting for the subject matter.

  10. Thank you all for your kind comments. I do not think any poem could do justice to the reality of these experiences. The poem itself seems a rough draft, but the feelings still remain. Beth